Charest lifts cabinet secrecy rules

Former Quebec justice minister Marc Bellemare may be forced to testify before an inquiry probling the nomination of judges after the premier has lifted some cabinet secrecy restrictions.

Decision may force Bellemare to testify before probe

Premier Jean Charest is forcing the hand of former justice minister Marc Bellemare by lifting some cabinet secrecy restrictions, allowing him to testify before the inquiry looking into the nomination of judges in the Quebec.

Bellemare has refused to testify before the Bastarache commission and said he could not break cabinet confidentiality rules. The rules oblige cabinet members to preserve government secrets, even after their departure from politics.

Charest launched the commission, chaired by former Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache, in April, after Bellemare claimed he was pressured by influential Liberal Party organizers to name certain people to the bench.

In a statement Friday, the premier's office confirmed an order of cabinet was adopted suspending the obligation of confidentiality for Bellemare and a handful of others, including:

  • Premier Charest.
  • Justice Minister Kathleen Weil.
  • Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis, who served as justice minister from 2004 to 2005 and 2007 to 2008.
  • Vaudreuil MNA Yvon Marcoux, who was justice minister from 2005 to 2007.
  • Gérard Bibeau, secretary general of the executive council, Quebec's top civil servant.
  • André Dicaire, secretary general of the executive council from 2003 to 2006.

The cabinet order was welcomed by commission spokesman Guy Versailles, who said the confidentiality rules had presented "an important obstacle."

But the move comes a little too late, said Parti Québécois justice critic Véronique Hivon.

Hivon said the commission was doomed from the start, when the Official Opposition's request to participate was rejected by the commissioner. She said the Liberal government has had too strong a role in setting up the inquiry.

The government has denied Bellemare's allegations, and Charest is suing him for defamation.

Bellemare has said he would fight any order to appear before the commission, which he believes is not impartial.

He said the commission cannot be impartial because the retired Supreme Court justice works for Heenan Blaikie, a prestigious law firm where many staff members have donated to the Quebec Liberal Party.